It's easy to make your garden a haven for animals, birds and insects. With a few simple changes here and there your garden will be buzzing with wildlife.
Attracting birds and insects
The best way to attract birds and insects to your garden is by planting pollinating plants and wildflowers. Make sure there's at least one plant flowering in your garden at any time of the year for bees - as rather than hibernating, they simply become less active. Lavender, rosemary and thyme are loved by butterflies and bees alike, while birds flock to plants and trees that produce berries and seeds. Holly, spindle, firethorn and crab apple all help build them up for winter.
You can use containers, planters and pots to create attractive gardens - even in the smallest of spaces, or where the soil isn't really suitable for growing plants. A pot filled with wildflowers will look lovely and attract butterflies and bees as well.
You can encourage birds to visit your garden, set up home and keep coming back by putting up bird boxes, baths and feeds.
Adding a nest box or two can make life a little easier for your garden's birds. It's best to put your boxes up in mid-autumn, as many birds come during the autumn and winter. Position each nest box between 2m - 4m up a tree or wall, ensuring there's a clear flight path to the nest, away from any disturbances. Also, try to face your boxes between north and east to avoid strong sunlight and wet winds.
A bird bath is a great way to provide water for birds, especially in the height of summer and during cold spells in winter. A shallow dish with sloping sides and rough surface for grip will enable them to bathe easily. Set a few stones in the centre where they can perch and try to make sure your bird bath is stable.
Place your bird bath close enough to bushes and trees in case the birds get alarmed, but it's worth checking that cats can't use the cover to attack.
There's a range of mixes for feeders, bird tables and ground feeding. Flaked maize, sunflower seeds and peanut granules are the best options for most birds. Avoid mixtures with beans, dried rice or lentils and split peas if you are hoping to attract a variety of birds as only large species can digest them.
For an all-year-round feed, choose black sunflower seeds, Nyjer seeds and natural peanuts, as these have a higher oil content. Bird cakes and food bars are great for the winter - but remember to remove the nylon, as these can injure birds.
Planting a few sunflowers is a great idea. Not only will bees relish the flowers, but if you leave the flowers to develop seeds you'll have grown your own bird food.
You know when your flowers are in bloom when you hear the familiar buzzing sound of bees. They're an important part of the food chain, but the bee population is dwindling because of disease, genetics and the loss of their natural habitats.
You can also encourage bees into your garden by planting pollen- and nectar-rich flowers like clover, geranium and lavender. A tree that produces catkins (like willow) will provide early season forage for bees.
You can help our bees by being extra-careful when using pesticides. If using them, ensure you spray in the early morning or once the evening is begining to cool, when bees are less active. Try not to spray directly in the flower head or on windy days.
If you're really keen on bees, why not think about becoming a beekeeper and joining a local beekeeping association?
How to plant a tree in your garden
If you have enough space, it's a great idea to plant native trees like willow, oak and birch - as they can support huge numbers of insects and caterpillars.
Mark out a hole with a diameter of one metre. Cut around the perimeter and remove the turf to a depth of 5cm. Then remove all the soil to the depth of the rootball of the tree, using a fork to break up any compacted areas.
Put your tree into the hole, making certain the base of the trunk is level with the ground. Pull out a few of the roots to stop them growing around the rootball.
Next, add a handful of granular fertiliser to the hole. Mix some compost or manure with the soil you removed before. Spread this around the rootball, then tread in the soil up to the previous planting level.
Insert a stake and attach it to the tree with a tree tie. Then place a rubber spacer block between the tree and the stake and cover the area with a thick layer of bark or mulch to keep the weeds down.
Make sure you keep your newly-planted tree watered regularly, especially in hot weather.
How to build an insect lodge
You can create a mini ecosystem in the smallest of spaces for wildlife to thrive in. Building an insect lodge is not just a perfect summer holiday project for the kids, it will also provide valuable shelter for lots of insects in the winter months. Very few creatures will cause much damage to your prized flowers, fruit and vegetables - and the right habitats can increase the number of beneficial insects who visit your garden.
Choose a cool, semi shaded area in your garden (by a hedge or tree, for example). Old wooden pallets are the perfect raw material for your insect lodge. Create different size gaps to fill, and keep your lodge dry with roof tiles or some board. You can cover it with rubble and plants that don't need too much water.
Now fill the gaps with a variety of insect-friendly materials and plants such as:
- Loose bark - Dead wood is essential for the larvae of wood-boring beetles. It also supports fungi, and creates areas for insects like centipedes and woodlice.
- Bamboo canes or plastic drainpipes - You can create holes for solitary bees to create nests by putting old bamboo canes or plastic drainpipes in the sunniest area of your lodge.
- Stone and tiles - Stone and tiles provide the cool, damp conditions that amphibians like. Put them in the centre of the habitat to provide a frost-free place in the winter.
- Straw, hay and dry leaves - Putting down straw, hay or dry leaves creates a place where invertebrates can burrow and find a safe place to hibernate.
- Nectar-producing plants - Flying insects such as butterflies and bees will love it if you put nectar-producing plants in your insect lodge.
Always follow the instructions very carefully if you use any garden chemical, as this will reduce the impact on your garden's wildlife and the wider environment. And always go for a chemical-free alternative if you can.